Train Tales

Posted December 2nd, 2003 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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Every Mumbaikar worth his salt has a few vignettes about the local train travel. Without further ado here is a bunch of travel tales I remember.

There was the beggar child who taught us the value of inflation about 7 years back. As a rule, I never give alms to beggars and definitely not to children who beg. The lady beside me did not possibly have that rule so when a grubby child begged her for alms, she carefully removed a 25 paisa coin and put that in her begging bowl. The child fished the coin out of his bowl and gravely inspected it for a few seconds. Then he replaced the coin in the bowl and brought out another coin and offered it to the lady. It was a 10 paisa coin, Before the lady could respond, the urchin said an unemotional ,”rakh lo” and went off. Nobody around knew what to say at that moment.

Standing at the railway platform you can always differentiate between the veteran travelers and the novices. As soon as the train is seen entering the platform, the veteran ladies loose their lethargy and adopt aggressive postures. The sari pallu or the the dupatta gets efficiently tucked to one side, the handbag is firmly clasped, there is a quick check to see whether the necklace/chain that they are wearing is shoved inside the dress/blouse and if necessary it is held on to. The eyes dart here and there quickly to check for any potential pick-pocketeers and then zero in on the train door not resting till they have got in and find a place to park both the feet. Once that’s done, the quickly scan the train for any possible seat…The rule is 4 to a seat.. It doesn’t matter if the previous three incumbents are obscenely fat but if there are only three, they shamelessly squeeze in for the 4 th seat.

Sometimes I have got the chance to teach a virgin train traveler the ropes…It is always fun to see the horror on their faces when they see their first crowded train and it is remarkable to see the ease with the become pro travelers after a few days. The first person that I taught about train travel was a school friend called Somila. To my horror, despite being a Bombayite she had never traveled in a local train till her 8 th standard.

Priyanka and I decided to immediately rectify that. As 14 year olds we were not exactly pros ourselves so we made the mistake of going towards Churchgate in the peak morning traffic and trying to get down at Charni road station. We calmly bundled her into the train at Bombay Central Station, despite her shrieks at seeing the crowd and even managed to push our way to the opposite side. Getting down was another story altogether. We told Somila to stick behind us and just come with the flow. However after getting down at Charni road we turned behind to see that there was no Somila. All we could see was her bag jutting out of the crowd and weak cries from inside. So we pulled at the bag till Somila emerged and yelled at her to push her way out before the train started. But Madam was waiting for a clear path ,which clearly was not going to emerge. So Priyanka asked the ladies to just throw her out of the train…Thankfully the amused ladies obliged and just as the train started to move Somila landed with a thud on the platform. What I have never forgotten was how she got up from the sprawling position. With both her hands still on the platform she gave her head a little toss and flicked her hair behind and then remarked “Mera hairstyle ekdum bigad gaya hoga.” . We burst out laughing. We retuned back home by cab. Somila paid.

Eunuchs in train always frightened me. Admittedly they are still not my favorite co-passengers but they are not always a nuisance. Sometimes they are ready to fight for you. The people I really dread on trains are the infamous fisherwomen. Enrage them slightly and you get the full knowledge of all the latest abuses in their vocabulary. A lady next to me learnt this the hard way…Dressed to the hilt, she boarded the train only to find the entire central area occupied by a couple of fisherwomen with huge baskets and the whole compartment reeking of fish. Not exactly comfortable traveling…this lady gave a couple of irritated glances at the fisherwomen and then committed the cardinal sin : she wrinkled her nose. That was enough to infuriate our friendly fisherwomen. They showered so many abuses on the poor lady that she was almost shrinking in the corner. The abuses ranged from how the rich folks can eat the fish but can’t bear the fishy smell to the comments on the size of her heels and the nature of her entire family.

That was when the eunuch in the compartment decided to join the melee. In strident voices she started yelling at the fisherwomen, quickly took the spotlight away from the frightened lady. Soon there was a yelling match with both the parties enjoying themselves thoroughly, the rest of the public had an enjoyable drama to while away the tedious journey and the person who started the whole proceedings managed to get down at her station calmly while the fight in the train continued.

Got Milk!!

Posted November 16th, 2003 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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Siddhi , in one of her infrequent mails to us, raised this doubt “Is it true …..One of the variety of milk in US have injected hormones in them …and bcoz of these hormones, u tend to put on a lot of weight with this milk …I have this colleague in office who has put on good weight when she had coffee made out of this milk . “

My knee jerk response to this enquiry was to obviously deny any such thing. I had never ever heard of it before. After all my grocery store did not display any such information on the milk carton. And I somehow had this naïve trust in the American system in believing whatever is written on the packet of what I buy. And after all almost every item here has some kind of caution displayed prominently on the cover. After all isn’t this the country where a cup of coffee is labeled with “Contents HOT”. But before replying to Siddhi , I decided to do the obvious google search. The results were undoubtedly surprising as well as illuminating. Siddhi was right, although partially. The Hormone called the recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is not actually injected in the milk but it is administered to the cows to increase milk productivity. It increases the milk yield of the cow by at least 10% and also increases the lactation time of the cow.This genetically modified hormone is banned in Europe and Canada but US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has sanctioned its use since 1995. I am probably a little late to realize this , and many of you may be aware of this, but it never the less shocked me. The FDA and the manufacturers insist that rBGH is fundamentally similar to the cow’s natural growth hormone. However several environmental organizations and individuals strongly disagree . Rachel’s Environment & Health News states that the rBGH contain an extra amino acid sequence differing from the natural hormone in cows . These organizations state that apart from the risk presented due to a genetically modified additive , there are other contaminating factors as well. Cows injected with rBGH have a prolonged lactation period and so are at a higher risk to develop mastitis. Mastitis causes infected udders and pus formation. To combat this infection, the cows are treated with antibiotics. There is a likelihood of the presence of either the pus or the antibiotics in the milk. Several organizations also allege that this milk has higher fat content as compared to protein content and also that these hormones might cause an increased risk for breast or colon cancer., because a tumor promoting chemical called IGF-I, which has been implicated in cancers of the colon, smooth muscle, and breast. is present in the milk.

The FDA denies that the bovine growth hormone, also known as bovine somatotropin, or bST is active in humans. FDA stated that after a long test period and based on extensive scientific investigation, that milk and meat from bST-supplemented experimental dairy cows may be used for human consumption, without causing a risk to the public health. Bovine somatotropin is a protein hormone, and this means that when a product Containing bST is eaten, it breaks down during digestion in the gastrointestinal tract into inactive fragments without any effect on the person (or cow) who ate it. That is why cows must be injected with bST for it to be effective. Experiments with rat models have showed that the mice have had no effects after being treated to a oral dose of this hormone. The FDA also says that the overall content of the milk remains unchanged, Subtle changes, primarily in the milk fat, do occur in the first few weeks of bST supplementation due to metabolic adjustments in the cow.

Which brings me to the next question. Why isn’t such milk labeled clearly ?. Here apparently the law turns a deaf year to the overwhelming public opinion that such milk must be labeled so as to enable them to make an informed choice . But this is not done as the FDA considers both kinds of milk practically similar and also there is no records or any kind of checking as to which milk is rbgh free or not and in the absence of proper checking, any milk supplier could make a false claim. FDA has even threatened legal action against milk suppliers and grocers who label their milk as free of the rBGH drug. FDA says there is “no significant difference” between milk from rBGH-treated cows and milk from cows not treated, and thus a label saying “rBGH-free” would imply a difference that did not exist, and this would constitute false labeling.

What do I think? Although the idea that my daily glass of milk is laced with different hormones is gross, I agree with the FDA when they say that the milk that I thought was natural is hardly in its pure form. After being enriched for Vitamin D, de enriched for fat free or skim milk, mixed with extra calcium , it is hardly coming straight from the cow. Also I have some experience in trying to get FDA approval for imaging detectors and imaging procedures. I have realized that the FDA and other such organizations are pretty strict when it comes to any kind of human interaction. But then again, although the hormone itself might be harmless it presents complication in terms of antibiotics, in milk, infection and other additives. That’s where I am concerned.

Incase you are looking for a suitable alternative here is a list if  hormone free milk and milk products and sellers. And now I have someone to blame for all the weight I put on in the last three years !!!

BOOKS

Open House : Elizabeth Berg The story of how a 40 something woman deals with the after math of divorce and her over helping mother and 10 year old son with the help of the new boarders that she takes in to maintain her financial independence. Readable but definitely not one of the authors better works.

Fried Green Tomatoes at Whistle Stop House by Fannie Flagg. L Wonderful book filled with great characters that stay with you even after you put down the book. As the blurb says it is the story of the people living in a small town called Whistle stop as narrated by an 80-year-old resident Ninny Threadgoode to the 40 something Evelyn Couch who is suffering from a midlife crisis. The principal characters of the story are two woman who run the Whistle Stop café….tomboyish Idgie and the extremely ladylike Ruth Jamison. Fannie Flagg shows the tendency of linking characters from one book to another. For instance Ruth Jamison’s granddaughter is Norma Warren, one of the principle characters of Standing in the Rainbow. Again the same characters like Norma and Macky Warren make a comeback in another of her novels Welcome to the World Baby Girl!. But then again Fried Green Tomatoes is possible her most delightful work till date.

The Twentieth Wife: Based on the story of Nur Jehan, the Empress of India in the seventeenth century and twentieth and the most powerful wife of Emperor Jahangir. . There has been a lack of historical fiction based on prominent characters of Indian history . Indu Sunderashan tries to rectify that omission and succeeds partially in recreating the splendor of the Mughal era. Jahangir, (or Salim as he was known prior to his coronation) is a popular figure in Indian history. But ironically the reason that he got his fame: his ill-fated romance with one of the servant girl (Anarkali) , made immortal by the movie Mughal azam , has just been given a passing mention. Unfortunately , the character of Nur jehan does not excite much being too passive and fails to impart the tenaciousness or the shrewd nature that she is known to possess.

MOVIES

Ferris Beuller’s day off : Story of an oversmart kid who decided to bunk a day from school with his best friend and girl friend. He pretends to be sick which his parents and school mates believe. Only two people do not believe it. His sister and his principal and both are on the lookout for a chance to expose his lie. But with the help of ingenious ( and far fetched ) tricks. Ferris Beuller manages to have is day off, thwarting the attempts of his principal and finally making his peace with his older sister. Mathew Broderick is cute as Ferris Beullar but I should have seen the movie 10 yars ago to enjoy it more….!!

Gangs of New York : Lavish sets and period costumes , great performances from Leonardo di caprio and Daniel Day-Lewis , this story about the gangs in New York in 1900’s tells the story of two main gangs the Irish and the Natives. Caprio as the young Irish lad out to take his revenge against the Butcher Bill ( the native who killed his father ) delivers an excellent performances. The only disappointment was the climax. It was rather tame compares to the rest of the movie. The director (Martin Scorsese)does try to redeem it with a footnote that later nobody will remember that such gangs fouight and NY was once under their sway but it is a weak end to an otherwise fine story.

Amma’s Tamasha

Posted October 26th, 2003 by Deepa and filed in Raves and Rants
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amritandamayiThe four-day celebrations for Amritanandamayi’s 50th birthday celebrations are underway in Kochi. Popularly known as Amma, she is also referred to by the media as the “hugging saint” or the “embracing guru”. This name is due to her marathon embracing sessions where she sits, decked up in a fancy dress, complete with peacock feathers, and embraces all the people who throng to have a darshan. All are embraced; a few get some soothing words murmured in their ear and everybody returns home happy. Amritanandamayi is an international figure now. She has her ashrams in several other countries, people of various faiths and nationalities as her disciples. Her native village, Vallikavu has been changed to a huge pilgrim center called Amritapuri . It astonishes me , that millions believe in her as an incarnation of GOD and pray to her. A large number of people in Kerala are her devotees. My maternal relatives are amongst the most ardent of them. Once there was a satsang conducted at my grandmother’s place in honor of Amritanandamayi. These satsangs generally had a disciple of Amma who would come and sing some Amrita bhajans and the rest of the people would echo him in chorus. After, which this “swami” would tell some stories describing several “miracles” that Amma performed and whats funny is that everything he’d say would be believed without a question. And this is in Kerala. The first literate state in the country…where even the beggars read newspapers and the village chai shopowner can knowledgeably discuss about American foreign policy. Anyway that day’s topic was Amritanandamayi’s visit to Bombay. In those days there was a sudden spate of suicides in the BARC in Bombay. The papers had given it adequate coverage stating how the obviously intelligent scientists are ending their lives due to the enormous stress they are under. The Swami went on to say how these people who were intelligent who were scientists still had faith in god and in Amritanandamayi. He claimed that after she visited BARC colony and hugged the poor scientists there , there was peace and calm and the number of suicides have totally stopped. (Which ,as I told my relatives, was utter nonsense…I had several cousins in the BARC colony who had just had told me of two more suicides that occurred the previous week, in fact one of them occurred right in front of my uncle’s office) Obviously Amma miracles were shortlived!

However I do appreciate the fact that she has managed to do a lot of good things. An hospital sponsored by her, called the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, is one of the best hospitals in India today. It has state of the art instrumentation and employs latest techniques and offers patients low cost if not free treatments. She has founded and funded schools, universities, engineering and medical schools and orphanages using the money that millions of devotees have offered her. Despite her social service, I am very irritated by her pretensions to divine form. Isn’t it a pity that people have no hesitations in offering their life savings to a saint but will never do that to a non-religious social organization? And that such obvious godmen and woman who benefit from all this. For nobody knows how much of this money goes to line her coffers or those of her immediate assistants. Despite having a history of obvious fake babas and devis, people still continue to believe in them. Wasn’t it recently that another similar baba, the Puttaparathi Sai baba was embroiled in an alleged sex scandal and smuggling charges. I wonder when the Amritandamayi’s true self will be exposed. Rationalists and a few have already pointed at the sudden wealth of her relatives.

Mother Teresa created the Missionaries of charity to serve the poor in Calcutta. She was a nun and was quite obviously a devout Christian. The reason I respect her and not Amritanadamyi depite both doing social service is that MT did not intimate that she had any kind of divine powers. She personally went about serving the people. She might believe in GOD but nowehere did she say that she was GOD. On the other hand you have Amritanandamayi who dresses up in fancy clothes and sits hugging people and claiming divine power and having “true” knowledge. That is why Mother Teresa is a saint and  Amritanandamayi is a mere imposter.

An aunt who is an ardent devoree paid for an annual subscription of Amritandamayi’s monthly magazine, “Amrita” to be delivered to me each month. Much as I detested Amritanandamayi and the mass hysteria that she has created, I still read them ( that’s because I read anything and everything ). Each book described her monthly schedule, her visits and her messages of love and affection. Not that I have anything against her preachings about universal love. But I refuse to respect any person donning the garb of GOD and displaying “extra powers”. As a rational intelligent person I cannot accept the fact that she can turn water into panchamritam ( sweet dish ) as she claims to have done. Nor can I believe that she cured a leprosy patient by regular hugs. If that’s the case then she need not have sponsored a hospital…just hugged all the patients and voila you have a cure for all problems in the world!! It is this obvious façade that disgusts me. Add to that the tendency of speaking of herself as Amma and I think we have surefire charlatan. One of my cousin brothers left the house in his early twenties to join Amritandamayi’s cult. He had unemployed parents and two elder sisters who were probably depending on him to get a job. I think of him as a shirker of responsibilities. Another aunt took up voluntary retirement and decided to settle at Amritapuri after donating all her life savings to Amma. She surfaces occassionally for certain functions and behaves like a sanyasin, much to my irritation. I have relatives who claim attend every single celebrations at Amritaputi. And now we find the Prime Minister and the President too have nothing more to do rather than pay their obeisance to a fake God? And APJ is the person who propagates scientific thinking in today’s youth…That is certainly not an example to follow.

Why I liked “Main Madhuri Dixit Kyon Banna Chahti Hoon”

Posted October 23rd, 2003 by Deepa and filed in Reviews
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main_madhuri_dixit_banna_chahti_hoon_sizedReason 1) Rajpal Yadav’s brilliant portrayal as Raja.

As Chutki’s wholehearted supporter and confidante, the silent lover, the innocent villager, Chutki’s sole protector Yadav excels in conveying all the shades of his character admirably. He is definitely in the league of Varma’s other protégé finds like Manoj Bajpai. RGV definitely can spot and encourage talent. Debutant director Chandan arora is another fine example.

Reason 2 ) Raja’s character (different from Rajpal Yadav’s performance).

Generally people from villages and small towns coming to the big bad city are almost invariably picturised as gullible fools or poor downtrodden villagers or raw country bumpkins. Raja is none of those. He is not street smart (witness how he gets hoodwinked by the taxi driver as soon as he steps foot in Bombay ) but he is no fool. He is from a well to do family, which is not shown as the family of mean horse riding Thakurs, nor is he depicted as from a family on the brink of death due to starvation. He is sensible enough to come with a plan of action in most of the situations that Chutki faces while trying to fulfill her ambition. In a nutshell he is a very realistic character

Reason 3) Antara Mali ’s performance.

As Chutki her performance is endearing. And as a Madhuri Dixit wannabe ,she almost manages to get it right . She even manages to copy Madhuri’s dancing skills, which of course is no mean task. She gets the right expressions and the right gestures during each of the song sequences [she dances to song snatches from Beta, Tezaab, Devdas, Rajkumar, Sailaab and Khalnayak]. The premise of the movie is Chutki’s ability to dance like Madhuri , a tall order and if her dancing abilities do not match up to Madhuri’s, her enthusiasm and effort definitely shows through. And to give Antara her due…she manages better than most could.

Reason 4) Chutki’s transformation.

The slow realization that she needs a makeover to make an impact. The fact that the makeover does not mean get whisked into a parlor and <<drumbeats rolling >> reappear in a micro mini complete with flawless make up and high heels and dazzle everyone. She still looks normal and she still wears her old salwar kameezes and it is only a few scenes later that she appears in a long skirt and demure blouse

Reason 5 ) Missing Scenarios.

I liked the movies due to a number of scenes that were not in the movie. When Raja and Chutki arrive in big bad Bombay with all their paraphernalia and meet with the opportunist cab driver and stand there arguing about the fare…you are sure that someone is going to run away with their bags and leave them penniless and stranded….funnily enough nobody does.

You are sure the wannabe actor Rumi (Raman Trikha ) is out to try to rape our naïve heroine but when confronted with a knife leaves pretty tamely without the obligatory slap on the heroine’s face and promises of “main tumhe dekh loonga”.

When Chutki finally gets her first small chance in a music video album and she is asked to change her costume, you expect Raja to protest vociferously at her revealing costume (by Gajraula standards definitely!) but he goes outside the studio and waits patiently for Chutki without interfering in her work.

No casting couches and big hero-heroine nakhras, which normally are the staple feature of any movie featuring the film industry

Finally we do not see this big “realization” scene where Chutki figures out that she is a “married woman” and the importance of her suhaag . It is conveyed subtly when she wears the mangalsutra as she packs her bags to go back to Gajraula (absolutely no words spoken ) and in the scene where she tells Govind Namdeo (playing a very sincere agent) “ main ab shaadi shuda hoon ” no more and no less …no waxing about family duties and apologies ..The relationship between the Chutki and Raja is the same….despite Chutki’s appreciation and understanding of Raja’s better nature.

What is not there in a movie is as important as what is not there….

Reason 6) Very very subtle humor

One liners mostly that makes you smile in amusement, no belly shaking laugh inducers here. Several scenes, which mostly feature Rajpal Yadav and showcase his innocence.

Like the scene in which a puzzled Raja asks Chutki about the need for a photo shoot…” arre jab tum samne khadi ho, to kyon photo chahiye ”.

Or the scene where Yadav comes from meeting a prospective director to tell Chutki it is he who has been selected for a film

Or the expression on Yadav’s face after he gives an impressive (an obviously tutored) speech on why he needs to go to Bombay

Or the scene where Raja is embarrassed by the semi clad women in a magazine.

Reason 7) Bombay

Raja and Chutki are living in a dingy apartment in Bombay across the railway tracks with all its noise and associated pollution. Just before returning back to Gajraula with all her dreams crushed, Chutki looks at the trains and the railway tracks from the window in her apartment and says “ Raja, Mumbai kitni khubsoorat jagah hai ,ha na ”. I think that sentence is one the best tributes to Bombay . It is a magical place…despite the filth, the corruption and sadness, the city sparkles ; it alive and vibrant and throbbing with activity.

Reason 8) The climax.

Unlike Rangeela which features a similar protagonist who dreams of becoming a big star and eventually making a big splash, Chutki does not get a big break featuring the famous hero of the day. She acts in a small budget film, a B grade film and hardly causes a ripple. Of course, she does get a lot of offers as people have noticed her talent but there is no mention of any big break. You don’t know whether Chutki will make it big. She might go the way of several flop starlets who constantly do B or C grade films. She might loose her innocence and naiveté and may even ditch Raja but the movie stops short of all that…pausing at an optimistic note ….not a triumphant note.

Bombay Blasts

Posted August 26th, 2003 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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The two blasts that rocked Bombay yesterday brought back the memories of the earlier series of blasts in March ’93. Bombay was just recovering from the horror of the riots that took place in January 1993. Schools had been closed for over two weeks during the riots and after two months people were just getting over the riots and its terror . Parents had just about stopped escorting their children to school. (As 10th standard students we were spared the indignity of parents having to drop us to school every day !)

It was during our SSC exam that the bomb blasts happened. I had just come home after the day’s exam and was having a well-deserved glass of “nimbu pani” from my mother, who was on leave to “help” me cope with the stress of exams. In other words, my mother, ever the opportunist, made my exams an ideal excuse for bunking office. It was at that time when we heard a loud blast. There didn’t seem to be any reason for firecrackers at that point of time, so we were not sure what to make of that blast. Reports soon poured in via the phone and TV that there had been a series of blasts at different points in Bombay within a short time. Rumors were rampant….we heard stories of regular workers at the stock exchange, who stepped out for some reason and thus were fortunate to escape being killed and others who were at the site of the blasts by accident or on a rare visit were killed or injured and yet others who by a quirk of fate missed one blast but was killed in another location. Tension was in the air, the riots were just over and everybody feared another possible breakout of communal violence. Of course at that point of time,I was equally worried about my next day’s exam. I was disgusted when my geography exam was postponed to the end eventually extending my exams by one more day.

But those blasts changed the attitude of the average Bombayite ( it was Bombayite then and not Mumbaikar!!) ..if only for a short while. Of course the change was not a drastic one and it was not even a very obvious change but you knew that behind the “bindaas” attitude that everyone sported, people were worried. The media for once did a good job of boosting the morale of the people. There were hoardings all over the city describing how the blood banks were full about an hour after the accident and how several Hindus helped Muslims and vice versa. Next day, the news showed clippings of the local trains which were as packed with people as before as Bombayites got back to their regular routines snubbing the terrorists in their attempt to disrupt their existence. There were spot interviews of some random people in the crowd who declared that they will not allow any such incident to upset their lives…We were all proud Bombayites then,,,scared , worried but proud!!

Everybody was a bit wary, those days after the blast. In the ladies compartment in the train, women smiled awkwardly at each other before peeking below their seats. At railway stations public announcements warned the people against any unattended objects or suspicious person. Buses were stopped mid route when people discovered a small box or parcel accidentally left by previous passengers. I remember my friend Priyanka unknowingly dropping a packet ( it contained Veg Manchurian ) at Bombay central station and then to our amazement finding it there ( on the platform steps) when we retraced our paths 15 minutes later. Inspite of the crowd ,nobody had even touched or stamped the bag.

Slowly things reverted back to the old state. People stopped checking below their seats, unfamiliar objects were bypassed calmly without calling the cops, petty thieves even dared to pick some of them up…. The bandhs stopped, politicians found new issues to blame Pakistan and the opposition. The terror and worry seemed a thing of the past

And now it seems like it is a repeat performance of the whole scenario…Several killed, and still more injured. Political parties do what they are best in doing : blame everyone else. A few weeks later all this will settle down. Headlines will be dominated by some other news . People in Bombay will get back to their busy lives , will still hail a cab without thinking of this incident and will still take their evening walk near the Gateway of India.
As they say….this too shall pass.

Books :

Standing in the Rainbow by Fannie Flagg : Life in a small town in middle America, with all its quirky residents and their everyday troubles and happiness . The book deals from 1946 to present . All her characters are distinct and interesting and the book itself is a happy book that makes you smile as you read thru and leaves you feeling happy and cheerful and as Fannie Flagg would say with a smile in your voice!

The Bridegroom by Ha jin : Short stories, based on Chinese people in China. Most of the stories have very predictable endings but each of them are very different from each other. It was interesting to note that most of the prejudices, and the so called traditional values were so similar between India and China.

Movies

Prem Deewane : I loved the movie when I saw it the first time. I always wanted to see it later to see whether I would find it equally good years later. And yes I still was laughing at the antics of “college ke Laila –Majnu” . The flashback was a bit irritating and but If you want mindless funny entertainment I recommend this movie.

Teen Deewarein : Great movie and amazing performances. Juhi Chawla and Naseer were wonderful but Nagesh Kukoneer matches their performance with his role as a middle class Hyderabadi accountant. I especially noted his accent that seemed to be quite authentic and without the Amru accent which was evident in Hyderabad blues and to an extent even in Rockford. Each of the three prisoners had different characters and what is more maintained their characters throughout the movie.
But regarding the story and especially the climax , it seemed very familiar…as though I have read a similar story somewhere else. Anybody have any ideas?

Independence Day

Posted August 15th, 2003 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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As a school kids Independence Day meant flag hoisting, a half-day at school and distribution of sweets. Attendance in school was compulsory, we would be warned previously and absentees always had a tough time the next day. We would watch the tricolor being hoisted, listen to a few speeches, sing a few patriotic songs and proudly pin a miniature paper flag onto our uniforms. After this brief ceremony we would rush home and attend a replay of the previous proceedings but with a different cast. We would sing the songs with the same gusto, applaud the speeches and stand solemnly during the flag hoisting as before. Freedom and freedom struggle was an abstract topic. I could probably reel of the names of the national leaders and may be even their birth-dates and death anniversaries but it was something that happened a long long time back.

By the time I reached high school, the enthusiasm waned. Attendance in school was still compulsory so we used to be present at the flag hoisting ceremony. However we stopped attending the “Swatantra divas samarambh” at the colony, preferring to go home and enjoy the rest of the day. I became aware of the distinction between the freedom fighters and the politicians. I realized that the leaders of the country are not automatically the greatest people in the country.

After I reached junior college I have not attended a single flag hoisting ceremony. Independence day became truly a holiday. It meant watching the Independence day parade relayed live from Delhi on the television and marveling at the different floats and feel proud of all the soldiers in their different colored uniforms marching in rhythm.. By this time I had understood that freedom struggle and independence was not something that happened long long ago but in fact just a few decades back. And that freedom struggle was not just one big glorious sacrifice but a long relentless fight spanning centuries with several moments of frustration, pain, anguish and hunger and deprivation.

By the time I reached engineering school, I stopped watching television too. Those few hours of staying in bed late seemed too much of a luxury to be sacrificed for watching TV. Instead I would wake up late to the sound of the loudspeakers in the colony blaring patriotic songs in both Hindi and Marathi. It was the time I realized that patriotism was not such something you unfurl on Independence Day and those days when India plays Pakistan in cricket but something one should practice daily.

Over the years the less I celebrate Independence day in a conventional manner, the more I realize the wonder of having a civilization that goes back 5000 years and more, of a country that has such a variety of culture and a freedom struggle and freedom fighters whom I truly admire and whose sacrifices awe me. I have forgotten the dates when Pandit Nehru died or when the Tilak was born or the day when Quit India movement started. But now I am aware of Nehru;s idealogies, Tagore’s works and Gandhiji’s views. I claim to understand and appreciate Indian history a little better than when i remembered all the dates and could spout the 10 reasons why the Irwin Pact was signed.

Books :

Minority Report and Other Stories by Philip Dick. Very interesting short stories..Science fiction is a genre I have not explored much and I am enjoying ever bit of Dicks works!
The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri: .A very nice collection of short stories. Simple and effortless writing.
The Sonata and other Stories by Leo Tolstoy: Discovered a fellow Indian girl at my work place who won me over by coming to meet me with this book once she realised that I love reading.

Movies:

Darna Mana Hai: Simply loved the movie. Admitted the ending was a little slack and needed a bit more thinking but the rest of the 2 hours was worth it. Every story has one delicious quirk, which I loved. What’s more, it reminded me of my annual visits to Kerala , when my cousins and I used to sit and night and tell each other a lot of such quirky stories some allegedly true but most of them made up at that minute. I especially remember a story about a monstrous hand which sprang up from absurd places and strangled its victims and how one of my cousins couldn’t sleep at night because she was scared ,she could see a hand on the bedroom wall. It was my brothers cricketing gloves !

Achanak : An Interesting movie by Gulzar about a convict (Vinod Khanna) who is nursed back to health by a team of doctors and a devoted nurse ( Farida Jalal) only to have him hanged after he is well enough. Vinod Khanna who is terribly in love with his wife ,murders her and his closest friend when he discovers them together. The interesting feature of the movie is that it does not excuse this adultery nor make it a case of “galat fehmi”.

Websites:

Wonder why some cars got their names….here is one view or rather several views!!
INDIA ERAS [Here is one for Independence day!….Amazing link]

Of Docs and Quacks

Posted August 13th, 2003 by Deepa and filed in Uncategorized
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Recently there was an article at Sulekha written by a doctor about the legal troubles and high insurance problems faced by doctors which affects their practice the quality of health care in USA. Another article in the Times of India also exposed the dearth of doctors in my current home-state Pennsylvania to attend ob-gyn cases due to the fear of malpractice suits. Most people [as evidence by the comments on the above mentioned article in Sulekha] immediately point out that this situation is brought about by the greed and negligence of the doctors and that they can very well afford to pay those insurance premiums.

Well, that may very well be. I know, as many horror stories about doctors as the next person, may be even more. I also happen to work at a Cancer hospital as a Biomedical engineer. During the course of my work, I meet several patients, interact with doctors and work together with nurses and technologists. And I have found that most doctors are pretty committed individuals who genuinely care about the patients. I have seen docs discuss cases enthusiastically late into the evening to confirm a doubtful diagnosis. I have seen doctors plan a course of treatment carefully weighing the pros and cons of the prescribed course to determine what is best for the patient.

But then again most doctors are scared people. They live under the terror of speaking a wrong word or inadvertently giving a wrong impression, either by word or expression, that might cause the patient to sue him. The golden rule while dealing with patients, I soon learnt was “Don’t say anything!!”. No wonder it is frustrating for patients who go to a doc suffering from aches and pains to get a disjointed or a vague response. Most doctors live under the threat of a lawsuit and the hassle and the cost of it soon make the number 1 priority of doctors to avoid the lawsuit. The treatment offered to the patient immediately becomes defensive.
In the United States, physicians and other medical professionals pay insurance premiums to cover payments for awards resulting from lawsuits. This liability insurance is a must[in several places it is a law] while practicing medicine ,similar to the fact that you need an auto insurance for your vehicle prior to buying or driving a car. If you work in a hospital, in most cases your hospital covers a part [or most ] of your insurance. However if you have an independent organisation or are into private practice that you pay this premium yourselves. The liability insurance rates for ob-gyns with a clean record in Philadelphia is approximately 100K a year as compared to the National average of ~ 60K. [Well, that does put my car insurance into perspective!!!]
The dearth of doctors in this area means that waiting for months before scheduling an appointment with your doctor. At times, even emergency cases get attended to only after a month or sometimes more. I have known cases that to get a regular x-ray one has to wait for 7 months in Philadelphia. This certainly compromises patient care. High insurance rates in a city cause the doctors to look elsewhere for setting up a clinic or if not charge prohibitive rates to the patients. In any case it is the patient who suffers.

I do not mean to condone the behaviours of greedy or lazy doctors but isn’t this also worth a thought that if patient care needs to be of the highest quality then docs should treat in an atmosphere where the first priority of the doctor is to treat their patients rather than cover their rear ends.

Gourmet’s Column

Posted July 30th, 2003 by Deepa and filed in Food
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Kugel is predominantly a Jewish dessert made of noodles and cream cheese. One of the nuclear medicine technologists that I work with got this yummy dessert for a potluck party at the department. A little research on the history of Kugel revealed that this noodle-pudding dates back to the beginning of the last millennium.

It was evolved over the centuries from being made of bread to noodles. Eggs,milk and cream cheese was added to the dish over the course of centuries. Jewish women from several countries have contributed to the flavor of the dish. The Germans replaced the bread and flour with noodles. Hungarians added sugar and sour cream, Polish women topped it with raisins and cinnamon. The Americans make it even now.
And for those adventurous people who want to try it out here is the recipe for this delicious dish. History certainly is delicious at times!

While on food, an interesting observation : Eating an egg salad sandwich with ketchup is apparantly an absolute no-no ! Chicken salad with ketchup is fine but not egg…never egg!

After pouring a liberal amount of ketchup on my egg salad sandwich, I was standing in the queue at the cafeteria. I responded to the cashier’s enquiring glance at my plate that it was an egg salad sandwich. Her response was a scream. Literally. “You CANT have egg salad and ketchup” . Overruling my mild protests that I LIKE ketchup she gave a shudder and said “Let me get you out of here soon”. I got out. Went straight to a colleague and asked him about it.

He said that was the first time he has heard of anybody having ketchup with an egg salad. “Boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, omelets with ketchup..fine but never done egg salad” .

Well you live and learn!!

Yellowstone and Grand Teton

Posted July 10th, 2003 by Deepa and filed in Travel
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July 4 long weekend trip to Yellowstone National Park and Salt Lake City Travelouge ishtyle.

Day 1 : Salt Lake City [Downtown]

Early morning flight from Baltimore to Salt Lake city. It is a 4.5 hour flight and we reached there at 11.00 am thanks to the 2 hour time difference between Utah with the east coast. Rented a car at the airport and went to see the SLC downtown. The downtown area was virtually empty in spite of it being July 4.

Mormon TempleThe Mormon temple dominates the downtown and is the main tourist attraction for most visitors. The majority population in SLC consists of Mormons. Mormons despite their Muslim sounding name and certain beliefs ( they practiced polygamy earlier) and despite their place of worship being called a ‘‘temple’ are a Christian denomination. That they believe in an American version of Christianity is what I could gather from the proselytizing talks of the tour guides in temple. According to their beliefs after the 12 initial prophets in ancient Jerusalem died , sometime in the 1820’s another prophet, Joseph Smith , this time in America, was blessed by the vision of God and these people who follow the latter day prophets are called Mormons. Their church is called the Church of Latter Day Saints. Most of their beliefs are similar to the other Christian denominations but they differ in having a living prophet even now and being extra orthodox with respect to religion, family values, belief in rebirth and abstaining from alcohol tobacco and even caffeine. History says that the followers of the ‘‘living prophet’ were settled earlier in Pennsylvania and Illinois but due to persecution had to flee the east coast in search of a free land to follow their beliefs. So in 1830’s the Mormons trekked all the way westward thru the hills and forests, an arduous 1,300-mile trek, following their then prophet Brigham Young till they reached Utah. Utah was then a barren mountainous region and it is of course to the credit of these Mormon pioneers that they converted this half mountainous half desert terrain, with its terrible climate and salty lake to its present hi- tech developed state.

We spent some time roaming about the temple till their official guides got hold of us and gave us a tour, which mostly consisted of gently persuading all of us to instantly join the LDS. The Mormon temple was the main attraction of the tour. However, we sinners (non Mormon visitors ) were not allowed entry owing to the sanctity of the religious ceremonies conducted in the temple. We did get to see the Tabernacle which is a ellipse shaped dome like huge structure with exceptional acoustics such that a pin dropped in the center podium can be heard anywhere in the tabernacle. It also houses a huge 11500 pipe organ, which is supposed to be on of its kind on the world.

The next spot to visit was a huge conference center with a seating capacity of 21000 people where they hold their weekly Sunday mass, One of the most amazing feature of this conference center was that there was a huge garden on the terrace of this conference center which had not just plants but even some trees growing atop it. By then it was time to meet Pral (=Pralhad: Seejo’s friend) and Ree (=Antony: Seejo’s brother) at the airport so we returned to the airport. By the time Pral and Ree came it was past 5 so off we started on our way to Yellowstone. Yellowstone was a long drive (5/6 hours) but the landscape varied so often and so drastically that we were kept entertained by the sudden transformation of rocky mountains to fresh green potato fields to bucolic meadows with cattle grazing in them to arid desert like regions to a green mountainous region. We camped for the night at Idaho Falls, about 70 miles away from the entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

Day 2: Yellowstone National Park [Norris Geyser, Mammoth Springs, Tower Area, Hayden Valley]

DCP_0128We had to get up early today thanks to the two brothers who woke up before 5 am and were constantly reminding Pral and me that they were awake and dressed. After morning ablutions were over we set off towards Yellowstone. The drive thru Yellowstone is in the roughly in the form of an 8 shaped loop called Grand Loop Road, in the center of the park. Most of the attractions are around this scenic route and the total mileage around the Loop is about 142 miles. However the park itself with its mountains and valleys consists of about 2 million acres. We decided to see the top circle of the “8”, the first day and so headed towards the Norris Geyser Basin

The Norris Geyser basin is one the most geothermally active regions in the world, if not the most. The guidebook assured us that it would be an experience in sight, sound and smell and boy! did it live up to it!! There are different trails we could follow to see most of the geysers and hot springs. Most geysers look like tiny pools with water spouting from a center opening. Some geyser pools were small but some were incredibly huge spanning several meters. The eruption time also varied from a few minutes to a few 100 years. The sight of the geysers with different colors as per the minerals or the bacteria in them, the stench of H2S and SO2 and the sounds of a erupting geyser and bubbling mud pools with boiling water all led to an unforgettable experience. The land in Yellowstone is very fragile and since molten lave is simmering, few meters below the earths surface, geysers and holt water springs are very common. It is not surprising to find new geysers erupting everyday and in fact we saw that sometimes the roads thru the park were cordoned off right at the center as a new geyser erupted right in the middle of the road. It almost made you scared to tread firmly on the ground lest the ground gave away and we played a part in changing the ecosystem!!

Elk enjoying its mealOther geological formations of interest in the Mammoth springs area that was interesting were petrified trees (Trees buried by volcanic ash slowly which have their inner structure replaced by minerals such that these tree trunks were literally turned to stone.), calcite formations(huge white tower like formations with hot springs springing from the top) and the terraces(terrace like formation caused by the minerals and limestone with blue-green algae and cyano-bacteria giving it different shades and colors).

We spent the evening in Hayden Valley trying to spot animals’ from the multitude of animals that reside in Yellowstone. We saw a lone black bear cub and a pair of elks and a lone coyote and yes we also had an extremely scary encounter when a bison ( which is HUGE and black and scary) ran thru the middle of the road straight towards our car. And there we were with windows open…. It was a toss up as to who was the most scared: us or the bison !! We were not terribly lucky with animals though…As Ree mentioned it was almost like Noah’s ark, the way we kept seeing animals in just ones and twos.

We had a sorry dinner at the Canyon Lodge cafeteria and camped for the night at their lodge

Day 3 : Yellowstone National Park [Canyon, Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake]

We decided to investigate the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in greater detail early morning. The Yellowstone river that formed the canyon also falls as a couple of waterfalls.The Lower Falls (which falls from a height of about 300 feet which is twice the height of the Niagara Falls) and the upper falls. To get to the base of the lowerfalls involved a strenuous trek along a trail, which dropped 500 feet (150 m) in a series of more than 300 stairs and paved inclines. After that trek none of had the energy to do anything but collapse back in the car and drive to the next place. But the beauty of the falls was worth the trek.

Old-Faithful Erupting

We drove to our next stop, the Old Faithful geyser area, pausing when we saw a random elk or a bison or deer, or to wet our feet in a brook, or to marvel at the at the harsh contrast provided by the trees burnt by the forest fire in 1988 to the lush green mountains or to admire the myriad colors caused by the bacteria geysers in the Madison area geyser basin and large craters caused by the geyser activity..

Reached Old Faithful at lunch time and it was faithful erupting exactly at the time that was predicted by the forest rangers. The timings that it would erupt (approximately every 60-90 minutes) are put up continuously in the nearby visitors center. The geyser erupted to about 180 feet in a spray that lasted 2-3 minutes. It was a beautiful sight although the majestic nature of it was somewhat impaired by the commercialization of the place. It was more evident because the rest of the park seemed pretty much untouched with little or no safety features and easy access routes. This place had seats all round the geyser and it almost fell like seeing a movie as I sat there with my packet of chips waiting for the show to begin.

Evening walk at the Yellowstone Lake, which is huge (136 square miles) and has a thermal activity even inside the lake. It was pretty amazing to see the calm blue surface of the lake rippling suddenly as a hot water bubbled to the surface in the form of a hot water pool. We could see craters at the edge of the lakes.

Some more geysers, waterfalls and mountain pictures later we were on our way to the Lake Lodge where we checked in for the night. In the evening we went back to Hayden valley (Voted by Seejo as the most beautiful spot in YSNP) area in the hope of sighting a grizzly and this time we made good use of our binoculars and managed to spot herds of animals instead of the usual stragglers. Bison and deer and elks were plenty as the sun set down. [Travel tip : Binoculars are a must if you want to see animals in YSNP]

I thought the most astounding aspect of Yellowstone was the sudden change in topography as we made our way thru the 140 mile drive. Mountains, valleys, plains, meadows, streams, canyons, rivers, waterfalls , geysers all crowded into the Yellowstone region. Each turn of the road brought us to another picture postcard like location. It was just incredibly beautiful. I still have not figured out the most beautiful spot in the park although there was were several contenders like this, or this or this one

Day 4 :Grand Teton National Park, Antelope Island

Picture postcard view on the way to Grand Teton NPWe took the scenic route back to SLC thru Grand Teton National park. Several people had previously told us that Grand Tetons is more beautiful than YSNP. We must have been saturated with scenic beauty because although it was certainly was very beautiful we were unable to compare the beauties of the two. Snow capped mountains in the distance was the major scenic attractions and each peak in the mountain range was each of the tetons. The largest peak was called the grand Teton (obviously!). We did get some excellent photographs of the region, especially framed by Lake Jenny.

Grand Teton Range - Panorama (Plane)On the way back to SLC we stopped at antelopes island about 10 miles away from SLC. This island is linked to the mainland by a causeway that is almost always submerged in water. The salt lake is named so on account of its high salinity due to mineral deposits. The island however has deer, antelopes, bison and coyotes and yes a profusion of sea gulls which refused to budge from the road and we had to stop the car to wait for it to fly away. The Salt Lake is a huge Lake, which is a land, locked lake. The only way water flows out of it is through evaporation.

Back to the airport to drop Pral and booked in at Marriott for the night. Ree and I decide to watch a movie after the heavy Chinese food that we had and I dropped off watching “Catch me if you can” [nice movie].

Day 5 Back to Baltimore

Leisurely waking up, slow bath and quick packing later we are again on your way out of the hotel. We give Ree a quick tour of the temple premises before heading towards the airport.

Reached back home late at night. Back to the hurly burly city life. The vacation was an eye opener to the other side of America, the rural America. Most of what I saw was the major cities on the east and west coast. Suddenly you realize that these are a miniscule part of the entire population,most of which is rural and lives in these prairies of Wyoming, Dakotas,Idaho, Nebraska who are ranchers and farmers, growing crops or cows and staying in these vast plains below the mountains almost in the lap of nature.

ENTIRE PHOTO ALBUMS: : SALT LAKE CITY ,  YELLOWSTONE NATL PARK,   GRAND TETON NATL PARK

When it Rains It Pours

Posted July 3rd, 2003 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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This week was one disastrous week…Trouble started early on…Infact to be precise on Sunday morning. I woke up to find my entire closet (and I have a humungous walk in closet) had been converted to an extra shower facility. Water was pouring (not dripping, mind you) from the ceiling over the closet and the restroom and splashing everything that was in my closet. I am all for showers in these hot summer days But not at 5.45 on Sunday morning and certainly not in my closet.

We called the maintenance and luckily they arrived promptly. It transpired that the lady upstairs left the tap in her bathroom running all night long. It must have been a long time for the water to really pour into my house. The maintenance guys tried to soak up the water using their machines but the carpet was really drenched. Anyway it left me wet and dirty clothes because the water was pretty muddy after seeping thru the ceiling. And so I had to do about 4 loads of laundry before I got all my clothes cleaned.
Now the water has all dried up from the carpets leaving them with a musty stink!! I think the carpet needs more than a shower…it needs a shampoo

That kind of set the tone for the week… I expected a relaxed week. It was a short week with American Independence day on Friday. Also it was official year-end at my workplace so most people will be on vacation. Atleast that’s what I thought. Turned out the powers that were decided to crank up the act and schedule patients for both these days for our clinical study…..That left me with tons of work for two whole days. On Tuesday evening just as I had finished the entire scheduling, coordinating, booking rooms, ordering materials, instrument tuning rigmarole some officials here decided that things were moving too fast for them to handle and cracked the whip….Two whole days of work down the drain

The next day there was more bad news….My boss was returning home from work the previous night at 11 pm and he was mugged. Some kids were loitering about the dark parking lots in search of easy money found a victim. They broke his nose, hit him on the head and left him unconscious before pinching the few dollars he had. Poor guy was in the ER under observation for 12 hours and is even now in the hospital. Makes me a bit nervous too….it’s the same route that I take on my way home…ofcourse lot earlier than 11pm!! The terrors of urban Philly !

What a pathetic week…..” Crib crib crib crib ”……….As I have said before cribbing is a very cathartic experience ;-)

Looking forward to the weekend . I am taking Monday and Tuesday off so it is a looong weekend and Going to Yellowstone National Park..Expect another travelogue when I get back!!

Books

Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip Dick : Wanted to read Dick since I saw Minority report but due to the movie ,his books ere either over priced or unavailable. So androids was worh the wait. Interesting plot and very human characters in a story set in 2020.

Movies

Italian Job : Pretty tame for a heist job movie.
Chalte Chalte : Shahrukh suckes big time and the movie seemed to be exactly how it would be if one took Saathiya and made it very filmi. It had all the corny dialogues that characterise a shahrukh movie

Websites

AgencyFAQS and Maginida : If you are not in India and like me miss all the Indian ads on TV, here are a few sites to relive some nstalgic moments or catch up on the new Sachin Tendulkar Pepsi ad or Aaamir Khan Coke ad. Also here are some vintage ads, !